When you're cooking to impress, sometimes simple and speedy are best.
While laborious meals you slave over for a day or more certainly can have panache, they also can leave you stressed and exhausted by the time you actually sit down to enjoy them.
Better is a meal that can come together in under an hour, such as this menu for homemade pasta with marinara and garlic bread.
Don't be intimidated by making pasta from scratch. If you can make Play-Doh snakes, you can make pasta. This recipe uses just semolina flour and water, and produces a hearty, rustic pasta common to southern Italy.The sauce is a simple marinara of tomatoes, onions, peppers and herbs. A pound of ground beef or turkey could be added to make it an easy meat sauce.
FROM-SCRATCH PASTA DINNER
Start to finish: 45 minutes
4 tablespoons butter
8 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 large yellow onion, diced
7 to 8 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 bell peppers, chopped
1 cup semolina flour
1/4 to 1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Preheat oven to 375 F. Place a large saucepan of lightly salted water over medium heat.
Halve the baguette lengthwise, then cut each half into two 6-inch pieces. Spread 1 tablespoon of butter over each of the pieces of bread, topping that with a quarter of the minced garlic.
Reassemble the bread, then wrap tightly with foil. Place in the oven on the center rack.
In a large skillet over medium heat, combine the olive oil, red pepper flakes, oregano and marjoram. When the oil is hot, add the onion and saute until just tender, about 4 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and peppers, reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down, about 10 to 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the semolina flour in a medium bowl. Add 1/4 cup of water and use a fork to mix well. Once the flour clumps like wet sand, begin kneading by hand inside the bowl.
Continue adding water 1 tablespoon at a time, kneading between additions, until the dough is smooth, dry and soft. It should feel similar to Play-Doh. If you add too much water, simply knead in more flour.
Transfer the dough to a clean, dry counter. Divide the dough into about 6 equal pieces. Use your hands to roll each piece into an 8-inch rope. Use a knife to cut each rope into about a dozen equal pieces.
One at a time, use your thumb to roll each piece of dough across the tines of a fork, applying moderate pressure. The resulting piece of pasta should be concave and smooth on one side and ridged on the other.
Alternatively, many kitchen shops sell ridged wooden boards that can be used in place of the fork. The technique is the same, but the board produces narrower, more uniform ridges.
As you make the pasta, be careful not to pile the pieces, as they will stick together. They also can be dusted with additional semolina flour to prevent sticking.
When you have nearly finished making the pasta, increase the heat under the saucepan of water to high. Once the water boils, add the pasta and boil until all the pieces float, about 3 minutes.
Drain the pasta and divide between two serving plates.
Stir the balsamic vinegar into the sauce, then season with salt and pepper. Top the pasta with sauce, then remove the garlic bread from the oven and place a piece on each plate.